When men pose for calendars, a few core sexual fantasies are recycled over and over again: buff firemen with suggestively placed hoses; ripped police officers with handcuffs hanging just below their six-pack abs; sexy cowboys wearing 10-gallon hats and, perhaps, nothing else.
Which is why we don’t expect a calendar where Mr. October (Ari B.) is fully clothed with a bio about how he loves his mom’s matzo ball soup and his Birthright trip to Israel.
Or where Mr. December (Eric) is sitting behind a desktop computer in a traditional gray suit, his bio gushing about his willingness to “meet your parents on a FIRST date.”
These are the mensches (Yiddish for good men) who line the pages of the 2016 Nice Jewish Guys calendar.
Unlike the smoldering, nearly nude, and largely personality-less hunks of the more typical male-object calendars, Nice Jewish Guys launched with a completely opposite strategy when it printed its first calendar for the 2011 year.
Its founder, Adam Cohen, thought of the concept when he was kidding with friends about creating a calendar just of “nice,” normal Jewish dudes.
“I was joking, ‘What about ‘Rick’ in a Members Only jacket? He loves Chinese food,’” he told The Daily Beast, referring to the kinds of men who might feature in such a calendar.
What started as a “funny side project” is now “kind of a pain in my ass,” Cohen said jokingly. While he lives in California and works full-time as an executive producer of shows like Food Network’s Cake Wars, Cohen organizes the photo shoots and goes through the applicants, which he said came in at around 1,000 for the 2016 calendar.
In addition to sending a headshot, men vying for a spot in the Nice Jewish Guys calendar must also answer a fairly involved questionnaire with queries ranging from “What’s your favorite Jewish food?” to “What’s your worst date?”
However, Cohen said men aren’t always the ones submitting applications. “I have moms sending stuff, saying, ‘I have the perfect, nice Jewish guy for you. Please, put him in.’ They always have a month in mind.”
If the men pass that round, they still have a one-on-one interview before they can grace the pages of the Nice Jewish Guys calendar. Cohen said it’s very important to him to find the nicest of nice Jewish guys, the ones who answer the question “What’s your worst quality?” with a response like, “‘I’m too much of a mensch. I’m always helping people.’ Those are the things I’m looking for.”
Oh, and they’re not just nice—they’re nice and single.
“I tend to want the guys to be single and available,” said Cohen. “It’s a kind of calendar you can hang and it’s good to know these guys are out there and available.”
While most of the men who have been selected for the Nice Jewish Guys calendar are straight—and Cohen tends to talk about the calendar in terms of its appeal to women—he did note that they have had gay models in the past. “I want everyone to be happy and find a mate,” Cohen said on the subject of models’ sexual orientation.
Cohen has been married since 2007. Even though he has been off-the-market for nearly a decade, he said he felt compelled to create a calendar that challenged what he perceived as the stereotypes for male sexiness.
“Who we consider a hero is someone who is totally ripped and looks like Superman and is perfection,” Cohen said. “What I’m saying is let’s embrace qualities that aren’t clichéd. Sexiness is humor. It’s trustworthiness. It’s values we really do want and never recognize. These are the guys you can take home to mom.”
However, there are negative stereotypes associated with the ‘Nice Jewish Guy.’
At his worst, the ‘Nice Jewish Guy’ is overly passive, too close to his mom, and a nebbish (Yiddish for, essentially, a neurotic, pitiful pushover: think Woody Allen in any of his movies).
In 2014, Rachel E. Gross wrote in Moment magazine, the ‘Nice Jewish Guy’ (also the ‘Nice Jewish Boy’ or ‘NJB,’ as it is often shortened to) became for post-World War Jewish men, “yet another stereotype to overcome on their way to becoming truly American.”
While Cohen initially brought up the Nice Jewish Guys calendar as a joke, he “realized it has more social value than spoof.”
Cohen talked a lot about how he felt these kinds of men are often overlooked in the dating scene. “You have that ‘Nice Jewish Guy’ look, and women are like, ‘They’re not the bad boy’ or ‘He’s safe.’
“I’m like, ‘Fuck that. You’re looking at a great catch. You’re going to be wishing you went with this guy, after you went through these assholes. You’re passing by the best opportunities.’”
It is hard not to hear a note of vindictiveness or sense a larger goal in Cohen’s creation of the Nice Jewish Guys calendar.
“There is a bit of a mission,” Cohen admitted. While he’s married with kids, Cohen said “it was tough for me dating. I was judged too quickly. The calendar is making the argument that it [the ‘Nice Jewish Guy’] is sexy. It’s what you want. You just have to admit it.”
Cohen takes the Nice Jewish Guys calendar more seriously than one would expect for an item sold in Urban Outfitters and Kitson as a tongue-and-cheek, humorous, kitschy gift—and more so than the men who pose for it.
“I think it’s half-hilarious, half-embarrassing,” Ari Frenkel, also known as Mr. August, told The Daily Beast.
Frenkel, a 30-year-old actor and writer, simply thought the calendar would be good publicity for him and his comedy web series, Sorry Ari.
He was also motivated because a charity he volunteered for, Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles (JBBBSLA), had partnered with the calendar to raise money this year.
He said JBBBSLA was granted a month for one of its volunteers. “I thought it would be good for the organization,” Frenkel said.
But when asked how he felt about being presented as a sex symbol, Frenkel burst out laughing.
“Being a sex symbol is funny to me. I don’t give a shit. I don’t see myself as a womanizer or anything. I think I’m just a goofy guy.”
While Frenkel acknowledged there are negative stereotypes associated with ‘nice’ Jewish guys, that didn’t necessarily bother him. “I’m often underestimated at first glance, but I think people learn I’m multifaceted. I’d rather be a surprise,” he said.
“I could see why some guys feel they’re pigeonholed, but you are what you are. Own it. That’s what’s going to make you attractive to a person.”
“I think there’s the stereotype of the momma’s boy,” said Ari Seth Blau, the aforementioned Ari. B (and Mr. October) when asked about how ‘nice’ Jewish guys are perceived.
“I’m not going to lie. I love my mom, but I also know the way you treat your mom is going to be the way you treat your wife.” Cue the swoons.
Blau, a 26-year-old writer for The Late, Late Show with James Corden, actually has an extra reason for being close to his mom—and doubting the reality of the ‘Nice Jewish Guy’ stereotype.
“I hear people say, ‘I want to date nice Jewish guys because Jewish guys are good family men,” Blau said. “My dad left my family when I was 12. Luckily, I have the best mom in the world, but when I hear people say that, I also think that’s a dumb stereotype. Religion doesn’t make you a good family man.”
At the same time, religion is important enough to Blau that he said he will only date Jewish women. When asked who his ideal girl is, he responded, “If Taylor Swift were Jewish.”
Not all of the calendar’s models have remained single. Josh Odsess-Rubin, Mr. February, said he actually started dating someone around five months after the shoot.
But the 29-year-old actor and test prep tutor said finding a mate was never his intention in doing the calendar.
“My agent called me and said, ‘Are you ready for this? I have an audition that’s going to change your life,” he said with a laugh. “I thought ‘Is it a TV show?’ He was like, ‘Nice Jewish Guys calendar.’”
Like the other men who posed for the calendar, Odsess-Rubin also didn’t take being in the calendar too seriously. “The compensation is the hilarity of people all over seeing that calendar,” he said.
The men said they were paid $100 to pose—not exactly the salaries Pirelli calendar models are snagging. “My friends are joking, ‘Are you getting a cut of the calendar money? It’s everywhere!,’” Odsess-Rubin said.
While perhaps not exactly ubiquitous, the calendar is growing in (relative) fame.
In 2014, Jay Leno featured it on his show when actor Howie Mandel’s son posed for it.
Odsess-Rubin said his cousin, a freshman at college, received the calendar as a present from her roommate. “It was a welcome gift, and she screamed, ‘That’s my cousin!,’” more shocked than titillated to see a relative posing for a (sort of) beefcake calendar.
None of the men I spoke to said they had gotten dates from being spotted in the calendar.
“I don’t know if someone can see a calendar and know that [they want to date you]. You’re just seeing an idea of a person,” said Frenkel.
Still, when asked if he would pose again, he was certainly open to it.
“Sure, if it were in high demand,” Frenkel responded with a laugh. “I think they’re just trying to get Jewish guys laid as much as they can.”